Gibson’s Grill has that ‘it spot’ allure
Dana Craig/Restaurant Critic
Published: January 22, 2009
Whether you like Les Paul or less vermouth, there's a new Gibson to add to your repertoire: Gibson's Grill, the new restaurant/lounge attached to The National that oozes big-city sexiness from every intimate corner of its bilevel space.
Yup, Johnny and Katrina Giavos have done it again. These Richmond restaurant powerhouses have opened yet another restaurant with yet another funky but distinctly Giavos-esque vibe. After a few visits, including Gibson's inordinately smooth soft opening, I have no problem saying Gibson's is going to be as big a hit as the songs after which its signature martinis are named. Gibson's take on "Purple Rain," for example, involves gin and blackberry purée, not unpronounceable symbols.
Like its siblings, 3 Monkeys and Kitchen 64, Gibson's is a sleek combination of flashy neon swashes, lacquered wood accents, general boisterousness and an "it spot" allure that can't possibly be manufactured.
Upstairs, a handful of booths and warm wood tables are offset by an ice-blue, back-lit bar and floor-to-ceiling windows. A staircase leads down to a dark, booth-laden dining area connected to the lounge, complete with flat-screen TVs live-streaming The National's stage. While the space itself isn't huge, the three spaces have enough varied appeal to attract drinkers, diners, flirts and foodies.
If you've ever set foot in a Giavos-owned restaurant, you know to come hungry. Gibson's is no exception. The portions are huge but not as overwhelming as Kitchen 64's logic-defying munchie mountains.
Similarly, Gibson's variety of options isn't small, either. Opening Acts (aka appetizers) range from betcha-can't-eat-just-one homemade potato chips dusted with shaved Parmesan ($4) to habanero raspberry wings ($7.95), a version I found not exactly mind-blowing if you're a wing addict.
Gibson's wine list is fun and affordable (glasses $6-$8, bottles $19-$50), including easy drinkers, such as Trapiche Torrontes ($8/$28).
Foodwise, what stood out most about Gibson's menu was the reliance on the same repeated accents: Asian slaw, cream sauces, hearty cheeses, etc. This often irritates the heck out of me, but after eating my way through several of Gibson's offerings featuring the aforementioned, I was surprised by how different each dish tasted.
Chicken Puff Daddy ($16.95) -- cute, right? -- consisted of chicken, artichoke, mushrooms, asparagus and Boursin wrapped in puff pastry and lightly doused in a sweet sherry cream sauce, resulting in a balanced combo of subtle flavors and hearty textures.
An appetizer of perfectly breaded fried oysters ($8.25) got an unexpected punch from Asian slaw, a tangy, sesame-laced mix of peppers, cabbage, etc. I liked both separately more so than together, but the slaw is available as a side ($2).
The French Dip ($8.95), served on a sturdy toasted bun, was even better the next day, the sautéed mushrooms and melted Swiss having had time to merge in holy flavor matrimony. Paying 75 cents extra for golden-brown onion rings is definitely recommended.
I fell in love with Gibson's onion rings during a previous visit when I had them in the form of the warm onion and tomato salad ($8.95), a kill-me-now-and-I'll-be-happy stack of those same, perfectly fried onion rings and sautéed cherry tomatoes drenched in gorgonzola cream sauce.
But I've had misses at Gibson's, too. During an earlier visit, the crab cake sandwich ($9.25) had an odd, risottolike texture, something I've never come across with crab. It had barely any flavor outside the slightly tangy remoulade. I considered putting some of my Asian slaw side on the sandwich to get some tang but reconsidered after another cone of homemade chips arrived to satiate me.
My experience with service at Gibson's has been better than expected, save for a few slip-ups in the early days, something most new restaurants can't avoid while training staff. But it seems Gibson's worked out the kinks, as our most recent server was as with-it as she was friendly.
We wanted to order dessert, but the Giavos' signature, over-the-top portions made us leave that for next time. And there will be more next times whether I have a show to see or not. Gibson's got it down.